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COVID-19 update: ‘Critical juncture’ as cases, ICU counts climb

With Minnesota’s COVID-19 inoculation pace firmly on the right track and the state expecting a big jump in vaccine shipments next week, the pandemic picture seems bright. Adding to the good news: a single-day record 85,573 vaccinations reported in Saturday’s update.

Officials, though, remain increasingly anxious as new cases and hospitalizations climb.

While the state’s push to get shots into arms seems to be humming along now, active COVID-19 cases are climbing; intensive care patient counts are at their highest level in more than two months.

Even as they loosen rules to make it a bit easier for care residents to get out for April celebrations, play cards and eat dinner together, officials remain increasingly concerned over rising caseloads tied to the U.K. COVID-19 variant and to youth sports.

Here are Minnesota’s current COVID-19 statistics:

  • 6,875 deaths (11 new)
  • 526,267 positive cases; 96 percent off isolation
  • More than 1.7 million people with at least 1 dose; more than 1.1 million completely vaccinated
  • About 82 percent of Minnesotans 65 and older with at least one vaccine dose

The record single-day vaccination total reported Saturday by the Health Department pushed the seven-day trend to nearly 55,000 shots daily — the highest since vaccinations began in late December.

More than 1.1 million Minnesotans are fully inoculated while more than 1.7 million have received at least one dose, including more than 82 percent of residents age 65 and older.

But as the trend lines move in the right direction on vaccinations, they’re headed the wrong way around the disease. Known, active cases, for instance, have pushed back above 16,000 — the highest count since early January.

Saturday’s data also shows the state’s positive test rate trending for a fifth day above 5 percent — a warning sign about a possible surge.

“We are all tired of this virus and the restrictions it’s brought on, but we need to act now,” Dr. Ruth Lynfield, the state’s epidemiologist, told reporters Thursday as she implored Minnesotans to keep social distancing and wearing masks in indoor public gathering spaces to check the spread of the disease.

“I do feel like we’re at a critical juncture,” she added.

The good news is that many of the state’s highest-risk residents, including seniors, have received at least one dose already and Minnesota expects to see its federal vaccine supply shipments jump during the month.

Officials have described the current situation, though, as race against time to vaccinate as many Minnesotans as possible before the COVID-19 variants can get a stronger foothold in the state.

They’ve confirmed nearly 1,000 cases in the state of the highly contagious U.K. strain in recent weeks and believe it’s responsible for the majority of the spread that happening now.

Active cases, hospitalizations climbing

Warning lights continue to flash around Minnesota’s COVID-19 disease metrics.

The number of known, active cases has been trending upward over the past few weeks, with 16,368 active cases as of Saturday’s report — marking 16 consecutive days with active counts above 10,000, a stretch not seen since January.

While still low compared to late November and early December, the rising trend is notable given the worries over the rise of the U.K. COVID-19 strain, which state health officials suspect is driving the current upswing.

Hospitalizations counts are also moving higher. The latest Health Department data showed 439 people with COVID-19 in Minnesota hospitals; 112 needed intensive care — the highest ICU needs and hospitalizations since late January.

Hospitalization rates for people with COVID-19 are also rising across the state. Dr. Dawn Droder, the chair of hospital services at Essentia Health in Duluth, Minn., says their number of people hospitalized has doubled in the past week or so.

“We are not anywhere near where we peaked in November, but we’re cautiously watching these numbers because they’re increasing for sure,” Droder said.

She said that the majority of their COVID-19 patients are between the ages of 37 and 65, and that it’s likely many younger people with COVID-19 are spreading it to older adults.

Eleven deaths reported on Saturday raised Minnesota’s overall pandemic death toll to 6,875. Among those who’ve died, about 62 percent had been living in long-term care or assisted living facilities; most had underlying health problems.

The state has recorded 526,267 total confirmed or probable cases so far in the pandemic, including 2,075 posted Friday — the third straight day with more than 2,000 new cases. That’s another streak not seen in nearly three months.

About 96 percent of Minnesotans known to be infected with COVID-19 in the pandemic have recovered to the point where they no longer need to be isolated.

South-central Minnesota update

Freeborn County reported four new cases and one new hospitalization Saturday. The county has now had 3,114 cumulative cases — two were removed from the county’s list. According to the Freeborn County Public Health Department,  93 cases are considered active.

The new cases included one person between 5 and 9, one person in their 30s, one person in their 50s and one person in their 60s.

As of Thursday, 10,393 people in Freeborn County had received at least one vaccine dose and 6,269 had received the completed series. 

The following is an update on other area counties:

  • Faribault County: four new lab-confirmed cases; 1,390 total cases; 4,605 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 3,002 had received the completed series.
  • Mower County: 10 new lab-confirmed cases, one probable case; 4,403 total cases; 14,857 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 8,356 had received the completed series.
  • Steele County: five new lab-confirmed cases, two new probable case; 3,376 total cases; 11,340 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 6,391 had received the completed series.
  • Waseca County: six new lab-confirmed cases, one probable case; 2,226 total cases; 5,630 people had received at least one dose of the vaccine and 3,697 had received the completed series.